Microsoft Product Names: How They Are Chosen I Wonder?

There is a great interview on PVRBlog with the creator of the TiVo name and mascot. It describes the process by which the names were whittled down and decided on. Although I have no clue how this process actually works at Microsoft, here is how I think it might for one of our products:

Tech Dude: We have this cool new product that lets you record TV on your PC, we need a name.

Marketing Dude: What OS does it run on?

T: Windows.

M: OK, and what is its purpose?

T: Its the center of your media experience.

M: When will it ship?

T: 2005

M: "Windows Media Center Edition 2005" is the name for you.

<fx: Marketing person leaves the room>

Compare classic, memorable product names of recent years (TiVo, iPod, Google, Eclipse) with some related Microsoft names (Windows Media Center Edition 2005, Windows Portable Media Center, MSN Search, Visual Studio .NET 2003). With the exception of the Windows Client team (XP, Vista), we are really pretty bad at giving things catchy names. I mean the first three nouns in my list are so good that they have spawned verbs of themselves. 

Sometimes Microsoft have cool internal codenames (e.g. Indigo) then someone gets a hold of it and turns it into "Windows Presentation Foundation". WPF - sounds like WTF when you pronounce it...

Comments (4)
  1. Tim says:

    The best comparison I think is Microsoft’s "Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005" and Apple’s "Front Row". Hmm…which is the best name? 🙂

    I think my current favourite is probably "Next-Generation Secure Computing Base". It’s a bit snappy though, so I expect the marketing guys will need to make the name a bit more ponderous and dull before using it in a consumer product. Perhaps "Windows Vista Next-Generation Secure Computing Base Anti-Spyware 2006 Reloaded Premium Edition" or something.

    Names like "Windows Portable Media Center" are a good example of marketers wanting to push a brand over the actual product. Including Windows in the name (although I can see the motivation) sounds so corporate and out of touch. iPod is a good counter-example – it’s definitely the ‘Apple iPod’, sure, but everyone just calls it an iPod (including Apple a lot of the time).

    Trying to do otherwise is like film studios and video game publishers who think that the average consumer actually gives a toss which studio made a film or which publisher actually publishes a game, so they plaster their logos all over it, install the game into C:Program FilesChuggy Entertainment Publishing LtdGameName etc.

    btw, notice how 3 out of the 4 good product names you mentioned were not ‘real’ words when they were used. Also, interestingly, the only one that is a real word – I have no idea what product it refers to (but then it could be a US-centric thing).

  2. Joku says:

    install the game into C:Program FilesChuggy Entertainment Publishing LtdGameName etc.

    I don’t like that either when it comes to games, however afaik this is a MS recommendation. However Microsoft itself installs Office, Visual Studio and You Name It to something else than Program FilesMicrosoftBlabla.

    I actually prefer the Program FilesApp Name. Atleast for games.

    Though it may be the recommendation was actually to install under CompanyApp only with regard to the Start Menu/programs and not Program Files…

    >"Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005"

    Yeah and while that is cool for another few weeks, after that it will be old s*it and piece of *rap. Thank goodness for Edition 2006!

  3. Yeah, some of our marketing names are, ummm, challenging. They seem to be generated by committee (or worse, by a rulebook). I haven’t heard a good defense of one yet…

  4. Tim says:

    Joku – yes, that is the MS recommendation, but I’ve dealt with a few games publishers, and believe me, they couldn’t give a toss about MS guidelines – they’re all about pushing their own brand/company.

    Trust me on this one. 🙂

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